Writing Black

Our People Were Always Free With Ben Jealous

Episode 25

Former NAACP Chairman and author Ben Jealous sits down with Maiysha Kai to talk about his new book, being confused for Dave Chappelle’s bodyguard and how he is related to Robert E. Lee and Thomas Jefferson. 

WASHINGTON, DC – JANUARY 13: Ben Jealous of People For the American Way joins hunger strikers and activists at a press conference in front of the U.S. Capitol Building to demand that the Senate pass the Freedom To Vote: John Lewis Act. (Photo by Paul Morigi/Getty Images for Un-PAC)


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Maiysha Kai [00:00:08] Hello, this is Maiysha Kai, lifestyle editor here at theGrio and I am back with another episode of Writing Black where we feature Black thinkers, Black writers, Black leaders, and we have an amazing one with us here today, which is Ben Jealous. You may know him as the youngest ever president and CEO of the NAACP. He is also a prominent and acclaimed journalist, a bestselling author, and now the new executive director of the Sierra Club, among many other accomplishments. Hello, Ben Jealous. Thank you for joining us today. 

Ben Jealous [00:00:45] Thank you, Maiysha. It’s great to be with you. 

Maiysha Kai [00:00:48] I’m so tickled. And we’re here to discuss your latest book, which I love this title so much. It’s called Never Forget Our People Were Always Free. This came out in January. This is a gorgeous book. The subtitle being a Parable of American Healing. And as as hopeful as I found that title, I also was like.  

Maiysha Kai [00:01:14] That’s where you talk to me about that. Yeah. I know the title actually came from your grandmother, which is amazing. You know, you quote her in this book, this really incredible woman who was an activist in her own right and a change maker in her own right. But I was I love this title. And I want to talk about what you see as this vision for American healing that we so desperately need. 

Ben Jealous [00:01:37] So, you know, the title was like this onion. I kept peeling back. You know, my grandmother would just kind of throw it out there. Like, for example, when my sister and I were too curious about why our family were so light skinned, like, I’m I’m darker than my grandma. She was darker than her than her mom. And, you know, we talked about rape on the plantation, stuff like that. Yeah. And my grandmother, like, like yelling over, I guess, to pot, which is never forget, our people were always free. And I was little. I mean, my brain hurt when I was a teenager. I got, you know, a little more confrontational as the grandma. What are you talking about? Three of your grandparents were born into slavery. In the fourth one, you’re your own sisters and probably a rapist. So who was your grandma? The rapist. She did not like that. I realized eventually was that she was repeating something that her mom would say. Her grandma was born into slavery, would say. Her great grandma would say. And in ostensibly repeating it because of how it made her feel, that it gave her a sense of pride. You know, kind of grounded her, you know, in our universal humanity. Well, I peeled back. I realize he was cousins to Thomas Jefferson. So my first theory was like, Well, maybe this is just a colloquial way of saying, you know, all men are born with certain inalienable rights. Among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. That was said in the context of a monarchy and feudalism. Right. It was a radical idea and it did not comport with the reality of most men who are even reading that in the Americas at the time. But. I sat down with some historians, including Henry Louis Gates Jr, and it was clear there was more layers of the onion to peel back and so on. When we peeled and we peeled away. Peeled, what we figured out was my grandmother’s female, Kunta Kinte, if you will, on her maternal line, the first woman to show up in America, the maternal line. Was a pirate woman from Madagascar. Mhm. And that just blew my mind. 

Excerpt from “Never Forget Our People Was Always Free” [00:03:48] She came from Madagascar on one of the 17 slave ships that arrived in America from that island. Roughly half of which would arrive in New York and half in Virginia. All of them, but one were piloted by a known European pirate. 

Ben Jealous [00:04:07] It’s a long story in the book, but the bottom line is that all these 17 slave ships ever came to the U.S. from Madagascar. It was an irregular slave trade that was maintained by pirates. Six out of 17 of those ships was piloted by known European pirate. The European pirates have been at war at that point for decades, if not more than a century, with the pirates in Madagascar who are Creole people descended from the Polynesian soldiers and East Africans that they treated with, and and that was their stock of what they called the the walk on their toll or the people of the ancient canoe in Madagascar. And a lot of those folks are pirates to this day. You’re like, well what a pirate woman say to her children and grandchildren born into slavery. But never forget our people were always free. And why would you say it could be a battle cry, a call to insurrection? Or it could just be a way, sort of an acquired away and still a rebellious spirit in these young people, allowing them to understand that freedom and then their people’s history. And therefore must be the people’s destiny. And when I looked at the women in the family who were repeating it. Two of one. They were uniquely rebellious. And our family tree. My mom, sued her High School when she was 12. So she could desegregate when she was 15. You know, my grandma’s grandma ran away from slavery. And so out of you come back to the same plantation after the war and demand a paying job. 

Maiysha Kai [00:05:42] You tell that story in the book. 

Ben Jealous [00:05:43] Like it’s. These are strong women. And it’s like I think it’s exactly what you said. You and you said like basically like you like the way it sounds. You like the way it makes you feel. It’s exactly why they said it. That’s exactly why they said it. 

Maiysha Kai [00:05:58] You know, I did. I did really like it. And I like so much that I called my own mother almost like lifting this title. By the way, she’ll be reading the book this weekend. 

Ben Jealous [00:06:07] Buy the book for yourself and your mom, please. And your boss. 

Maiysha Kai [00:06:10] That’s right. Please do. But this idea of a parable for American healing, you know, it’s like it feels like we’re so deep in it. And listen, I am well into my forties now, so I’ve been here a minute. You know, I still think of myself as a relatively young person. But at the same time. 

Ben Jealous [00:06:26] Your moisturizer game. Keep it up. It’s working well. 

Maiysha Kai [00:06:31] I’m a lifestyle editor. I get a lot of I get a lot of samples, but that’s a side. Yeah, but, you know, I will say that like, you know, we’re at this juncture and you and I both obviously, you know, one of the beautiful things about being Gen X is that we’ve seen we’ve seen our own industrial and digital revolution take place. We’ve seen the advent of the Internet, we’ve seen MTV starred, we’ve seen all these things happen. But the one thing that has been constant is racism in its middle, its many iterations. And and also we saw the advent of political correctness. It’s like what? Whatever that was supposed to mean. And then the backlash against it and that particular pendulum swing. And as you point out in the book, we are at this juncture where it just. I mean, it’s so I mean, and in some ways it’s so nonsensical and vitriolic and absurd and you kind of want to laugh, but it’s, you know, now, in fact, affecting our entire educational system. Obviously, it’s long affected our policing system. But you hold out hope, and I want to know where the hope comes from. 

Ben Jealous [00:07:37] [00:07:37]You know, my grandma when I was a kid and I was dealing with racism on the playground, she would say, oh, baby, I just feel I wish I didn’t hurt you. And, you know, oftentimes when I was like, no, I’m sure I kind of hurt them, you know, like I was not afraid of a fight as a kid. And she would say, well, first of all, I don’t want you in any fights you can walk away from. And secondly, baby, just feel sorry for them. It’s like you imagine what it must be like to walk around so, so full of hate? [27.1s]

Maiysha Kai [00:08:07] It sounds exhausting, frankly. 

[00:08:09] Just feel sorry for and this was the best part. She said, “For some people, baby, just having to be themselves is punishment enough.” And that flipped the whole scenario. I came home, I walked in the door feeling like a victim, and I walked out the door feeling sorry for the person who attempted to victimize me. And then there were there was a lot of wisdom in that he was a social workers. You been to one of the best social work schools in the country where I now teach the University of Pennsylvania. And she understood without getting into the heavy psychology with her, you know, juvenile grandson that. Nobody comes into the world as a victimizer. You know, they come into the world and they’re victimized themselves in some way. And then that twists them into being somebody who victimizes others. And so that’s what she, I think, was setting me up to learn. Now, on their own, her optimism. Her optimism used to drive me crazy because when you go to these elite universities where you’re literally there to become an expert in something. You know, you very quickly become jaded. It’s part of being an expert is being traded. [00:09:24]The easiest way to be right, the cheapest way to be right is to be a pessimist. And my grandmother would explain that by describing life as a boxing match. She would say, you know. It’s true. Pessimists are right more often. It’s also true that optimists win more often. And you have to decide baby which one of these lives are going to be more important to you – being right more often or winning more often. Than she just laughs. I’ll take winning. [27.6s] But her point about the boxing matches and said. Imagine you’re fighting. George Foreman in the Rumble in the Jungle. And, you know, you get in as you well you. Get in the ring, you probably can be like, oh, it’s George Foreman. He’s going to hit me upside the head. He’s going to knock me down. It’s going to be a mess. So and by the fourth, you know, round, well, you probably throw in the towel because you’re like. 

Maiysha Kai [00:10:17] If you make it there. Yeah. 

Ben Jealous [00:10:18] You know, three, three points is a trend that happened first round, second and third. Why am I getting it in the fourth. Or you can get in like Muhammad Ali. And say, you know what? Yeah, it’s probably going to happen, but this might be the round. I don’t get knocked down. 

Speaker 4 [00:10:34] And Muhammad Ali did that for like 11 rounds. Dave Chappelle and I once watched a movie about 24 times in like one year. I know that movie very well. It’s called When We Were Kings. And it’s all about the Rumble in the Jungle. 

Maiysha Kai [00:10:45] Yes, it’s a classic. 

Ben Jealous [00:10:46] Actually, kind of a metaphor for Dave’s life. I realized years later that that was like mindset training when we were 20 years old. But for my kids, Moeen Ali keeps getting into the. Ring and he keeps getting beat up. And he gets to the 11th round. He’s like, You know what? George is getting kind of tired from beating me up. I think I can take him in the world. I only have to be standing in the middle. And I win the whole game. Doesn’t matter how many times I was knocked down before. And that’s what he does. And so, you know, that’s [00:11:15]ultimately I do believe that we’re we’re going to triumph over racism. I do believe we will reach the place of Frederick Douglass. And we were destined to achieve as a nation to be the, quote, most perfect example of the unity and dignity of the human family that the world has ever seen. I also believe that it’s going to be a pretty rough mid-century. The mid-century, you know, call it from like, you know, the mid twenties till like the mid seventies are kind of middle. 50 years are always tough. And America, it was true that way in the 1900s of the 1800s, 1700s. And it looks like it’s going to be that way. But you know what? We always pull it out at the end. Like Muhammad Ali in the 12th, you know, we always call it out in this country at the end of the century, things you can look back and say, wow, you know, 1990 was a whole lot better than 1910. You know, 1890. [52.3s]

Maiysha Kai [00:12:09] [00:12:09]I agree with you. [0.5s]

Ben Jealous [00:12:10] [00:12:10] I think. It might not be us it might be our kids, but before the end of this century. [3.7s]

Maiysha Kai [00:12:16] Well, I mean, you know, I’m hoping we leave, that we leave an environment for our kids to see that in. But I will I do want to talk to you more about that and some of the other big names you just mentioned. One big name, and I want to mention a few more when we come back with more Writing Black and Ben Jealous. 

Maiysha Kai [00:12:34] All right. We are back with Ben Jealous and more Writing Black. We are talking about Ben’s new book, Never Forget Our People Were Always Free, A Parable of American Healing. We were just talking about the fact that, like, you know, I also hold out a lot of hope. I am a firm believer. I don’t know if you I’m not a particularly religious person, but I’m definitely a spiritual one. And I definitely think like on some sort of broader karmic level we’re going to get with ours, right? You know, it’s going to work out. But I do think that it is a hard this has been a hard road. It’s been hard for every generation of Black Americans to go through. You know, my parents, your parents, grandparents, etc., etc., etc.. And now I think we’re here and a lot of us are living through through this and a very. I would say middle to upper middle class fashion that our parents weren’t. My parents were not for doing that. You know, like, we all have this kind of we talk about first gen conversations in America a lot. And I think like with Black people and Black Americans particular sometimes, whether it’s being the first generation to go to college, which I’m not in my family, but I am the first generation to not have experienced poverty, you know, in a real way. And of course, will be know statistically is that that’s a fight to to make sure you stay out of that because just because you’re you know, your parents achieve it as a Black American, you’re not necessarily guaranteed to achieve it. And, you know, you come from this legacy of really incredible leaders, people who really believed in who were really not just believed in, but very judicious and strategic about, you know, amassing security, not just wealth like security, you know, which I don’t think that all of us have an education on here. And as we know, that that often translates to some political power, not always, but some. And you’ve done such tremendous things with the legacy that you’ve been handed. Tell me a little bit about like what you hope inspirationally that people will take from this book, because I do think that sometimes for the generation, like even my generation, which I believe is also the time. And the ones are saying, Right, right. I’m listen, I’m turning 48 this year, but. You know. Even the generation behind us, it’s like, you know, I wonder, I, I get concerned sometimes about our complacency. I get concerned about our apathy about voting. I get concerned about, you know, the fact that we seem a little disconnected from the things that made it possible for us to be this comfortable. 

Ben Jealous [00:15:28] Talk about I’ve been the book. My mom grew up in the public housing projects in West Baltimore, first after her childhood and my grandparents Tommie, real lessons in resilience. They never stopped. Learning and they kept going to school into their forties, you know, just to be able to kind of move up, you know, move out, move up on kind of the, you know, sort of like The Jeffersons, you know, old saw. Right. Yeah. And. And my grandfather typically had like two or three jobs, you know. But the most important thing that my grandmother did for me. Was give me to understand that I had to fight, that I had to know what I was fighting for. I didn’t know what other people had fought for and won, and therefore we had inherited so that I could safeguard that. As far as like rights or the right to vote know things like that. But I always had to know what my goal was, how I was going to move the ball forward for my children or my, you know, grandchildren, if you will, yet unborn and I read how [00:16:40]Gen X was an experiment for Black. Because the narrative of when we came into the world was all the big dragons had been slayed. That you know they had killed Jim Crow, just like how they killed Jim Crow’s daddy slavery and you know and so now everything was fine. Rainbows and fairy tales. You know content of your character, not the color of your skin, all of that. [21.1s]

Ben Jealous [00:17:02] [00:17:02]And then we came of age, as you know, as I discussed my book, you know, there’s I have this reckoning. I was at a friend’s 24th birthday party. I wasn’t 21, but we were all drinking ahead. And both college in and around a house go on to the fact that one more of us had survived to 21. And it was like everything that my grandmother built up and me to be able to power through, just like she do with my grandmother, I mean, with my mother. When they were getting themselves out of the housing projects, kind of came crashing down because I was like, you know you just you told me all we had to do was keep our nose clean, study hard and walk a straight line. You walk a straight line. And it was like people were dropping all around me and college. Kids would go to parties in five years for crack possession because like one person in a crack rock. 50 people in the room. Yet everybody’s facing charges, you know? Right. Because, you know, back then, literally two, two rocks of crack, rather, were enough to literally bring charges against his entire party as being a conspiracy to distribute crack. Right how often do people ever get to spark smoke to rock, to crack? [70.1s] But yet, they were willing to sentence to the least threaten them with the equivalent of 250 years in prison across the entire group. And so as I was watching classmates head off to prison, as I was counting friends that had been shot and killed or sent to prison, I had to reckon with the fact that, like, everything wasn’t okay, that we were the most murdered in the country, we were the most incarcerated on the planet. And I just thank God that my grandmother helped me understand sooner rather than later that my generation was going to have to fight too. 

Maiysha Kai [00:18:49] Yeah, and I love that. And as a member of your generation, I definitely love that. We’re going to talk about that more. And also, you know, I do want to talk more about the phenomenon that is Gen X, the small phenomenon, and also, you know, the that most incarcerated statistic, which is really striking. We’re going to do both when we come back with just a little more Writing Black with Ben Jealous. 

[00:19:13] TheGrio Black Podcast Network is here, and it’s everything you’ve been waiting for. News, talk, entertainment, sports and today’s issues all from the Black perspective. Ready for real talk and Black culture amplified. Be inspired. Listen to new and established voices now on theGrio Black Podcast Network. Listen today on theGrio mobile app and tune in everywhere great podcast are heard. 

Maiysha Kai [00:19:43] All right. We’re back with more Writing Black and Vangelis, who you will know from some several aspects, including being the leader of the NAACP for several years. You were actually appointed executive director and CEO of the NAACP the same year that Obama was elected, which, you know, okay. Before, a couple months before. Right? And and I you know, I personally recall and I unfortunately recall it on a visceral level, what a special time that felt like it was an America like. It just felt like, you know, just like this book, it felt like there was this you know, I’ll say this, you know, Obama, I’m sure, would say this himself. I’m a Chicago girl and I live in Chicago. I grew up here. You know, he ran on a platform of hope. We. And they are still struggling to reach that. Your book is a book about hope and about healing. And you talk a lot, obviously, about family in this book and not just in the linear ways. I mean, obviously, we’re were just talking about your grandmother. One of my favorite anecdotes in the book is when I believe it’s your mom who’s like traveling abroad and stuff, and she writes back about the caste system in the Philippines. Like what? You know, And she’s like, really breaking down like the whole like, probably the culmination of it all, which we’re going to get back to, by the way. But like, you know, she’s like, well, caste wise, a be this and this and this. And your great grandmother writes back like, Honey, you 100% Negro. Don’t forget it. Like, and I just thought that was like, well, I was like, this is like, this is this is the quote. This is the tweet, as they say. This is the one. But, you know, I think culturally, it’s so we lose steam, right? We lose hope. We lose that momentum. And and yet you point out here in this book and we hear it, but I don’t know that we absorb it, that everything old is new again, like nothing. Nothing is actually new. None of the, you know, progressive policies we have or new none of the racism we face is new. And the absurdity we’re seeing is new. How do you translate that to hope? I don’t. 

Ben Jealous [00:21:57] Yeah. 

Maiysha Kai [00:21:58] So I’d love to hear in your own words couple. 

Ben Jealous [00:22:00] One thing is I encourage people to always have the faith of their foremothers, of their forefathers. I am a Black woman who in her life she has become much wealthier. You know, she was 70 years old. She and her sons, she said, are focused on multi-generational wealth, are now never really, you know, like a small real estate empire. And she’s like, I’m so worried about my grandson in the world that the were leading to him, a grandson just born this night and, you know, Trayvon Martin and the Klan. And I said. Says to the most important thing is to live with the same faith that your grandmother raised you with. Because if this was 100 years ago. Your grandmother would have been, you know, a probably a young lady. We would be like two years now would be a year from Black Wall Street being burned in Tulsa. B a couple of years after the Red Summer when all the Black vets from World War Two, World War One, were lynched. Ah, you know, Rose, word would have happened like last week, you know. But, you know. Whenever white and Black folks come into the world, like, look around, it’s like or something I’m scared of, for sure. And then you got to ground yourselves and say. But my people survived worse. You know. And. They kept moving forward like. And so it is also for this country. I mean, this country seems to always be fearing, you know, the Cuban missile crisis towards the civil war. It’s hit or it’s but there’s always threats. You know, we push through, right? We push through. Cultivating that resilience, finding that place for you is critical. The other thing I’d say, though. Is that you? One of the things I do in this book to talk to about the power of women for Madagascar. I say dig into my DNA. I dig into the family tree. I try to figure out where we come from, but also who were connected. And it helped me to. Understand in part, just how completely unnatural the segregated world where parents grew up in was, because they did go back like a hundred years before that. Well, my grandmother’s grandfathers. Being raised in a house where he knows that. The owner is his uncle. The slave owner is his uncle. And. It appears. Because that, you know, you would walk out of slavery at 17 at the end of the battle of Appomattox. 

Maiysha Kai [00:24:45] Really. 

Ben Jealous [00:24:46] Literally. And he’s walking out of his uncle’s house. And he knows his uncle, an outspoken cousin to Robert E Lee. And not 18 years later. But Tommy is 35. He is a bona fide leader amongst Black Republicans in the state. He leads them into a coalition that was transformative, that saved the free public schools. Give all that away is a wild coalition. You have to ask yourself, like, where. Did he get this hubris from? What made him think that she was qualified. To lead that state? Well, part of the equation had to be the blood in his veins. There were you know, there’s all these other guys I’m related to been running the state for a long time. They haven’t done such a great job. Maybe I actually could do better. And so, you know, part of the journey to basically reckon with the fact our country. At orgin, you know, in the earliest colonies, was a very abusive and dysfunctional family, but it was still a family and understood. 

Maiysha Kai [00:25:47] Yeah. 

Ben Jealous [00:25:48] You know, that I had sat there with the, with the will of that owner in my hand. And he was protecting my grandmother’s great grandfather, her grandfather’s dad. Only, as the layperson mentioned, wasn’t freeing and which would’ve been the right. But he also clearly cared about this person who was trying to. Limit the the how he might be. 

Ben Jealous [00:26:10] Cast into as the owners. Di. Skip Gates. You know, I said to skip like, what is going on here? He said, well, then based on the DNA and other historical documents and this well, what I would say is this the owner is dying and he knows that his manservant, the slave that he’s talking about, Frederick, planned by this great grandfather, is his older brother by six years. And it would have been too late, raised in the nursery of that plantation together, and they would have been basically bonded to each other, essentially from that man’s birth. The older brother would have been assigned to take care of him as he continued to do. And he’s trying to protect his brother, even though he doesn’t have the courage to tell for you. 

Maiysha Kai [00:26:52] Call him that. Yeah. Yeah. I mean, and we hear this story over and again, over and over again. I want to talk about family a little more. We come right back because your book actually opens with a really good up. I get to that. We’ll come right back with Ben Jealous and a little more Writing Black. 

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Maiysha Kai [00:27:45] All right. We are back with more Writing Black and Ben Jealous and his book, which came out in January 2023. Never forget our people were always free. A parable of American healing, you know. Then you open this book with this and you’re at. You’re at a dinner that you, you know, or an event that you had been avoiding attending. And you were like, oh, you know, it was just so convenient. I was, you know, happy to be in this city at this time. It was basically free. I’m going to go and you end up seated. Now, I’m not a person who believes there’s any accidents. And I’m sure after this incident you weren’t there, but you end up sitting next to this couple and, you know, you’re making small talk with them and you come to find out that the wife in this couple is essentially your husband, but not in a way that we Black people typically know, say cousin. Tell us a little about that encounter and how. 

Ben Jealous [00:28:41] We were having dinner. Right about and I admittedly was. A little droggy. There have been a cocktail party and then there was wine a dinner about the food hadn’t showed up yet, you know. And so you’re in that little dangerous space where you’re like, I didn’t you know, I thought there’d be something absorbing the alcohol in my stomach at home. And that tends to make me it was already a candid person, even more candid. [00:29:04]And so this guy, you and I, are talking about where you’re from. And it’s clear that his wife’s family and my family from the same little place in Virginia and we have the same family name and we’ll names mean something in the South. And when you’re in your light skin, there’s really no denying what it likely means. And when you’ve been light skinned for enslaved days. And so I just kind of look and I must say, sir, I don’t know how to say this, so I’m pretty sure your wife’s family used on my mama saying. And he’s from Minnesota. So the first thing he does is he switches chairs. Baby, I need to talk to this guy. I don’t know. I don’t know. You know, I don’t. Know what to do. And then she’s all over my face. The 80 year old, you know, at the time I was in my thirties, early thirties. And she’s like a half century older than me. And she just. Stared at me and he goes, Come here, baby, give me a kiss. I always knew I had Black family. And I was just like. Well, it beats you slapping me, [62.4s] which is what I was like. 

Maiysha Kai [00:30:07] All right. Stuff just got weird, right? 

Ben Jealous [00:30:11] And then she sort of talking about mammy like mammy’s mommy. Like I always thought, I guess if I ever heard a little, you know, patrician white person from the South talk about their mammy, my mammy, like my nanny, a rich kid. 

Maiysha Kai [00:30:27] Although it seemed to me it just brought back straight, like Gone With the. Wind vibes. 

Ben Jealous [00:30:30] Straight up. 

Maiysha Kai [00:30:30] I was like, no, that’s you call them Mammy. Yeah, that’s like, that’s her name. 

Ben Jealous [00:30:36] So Mammy and raised she was 12 and she said, you know, I’m. I said, You know what? What makes you think that, Mammy just go with the flow. You know? That Mammy was family. And she said, Well, because, well, my mama and her sisters got to squabble on the party line. Man, we couldn’t afford to squash that argument in 15 seconds flat. She said “In the Bland family only blood can do that.”. 

Maiysha Kai [00:31:05] Hmm. 

Ben Jealous [00:31:05] And he went on to explain that he had been raised in San Francisco by this very antebellum family. Her mom was, you know, did feel old, didn’t expect that she could have a baby. And she did. Her brothers were almost adult by the time she was born. They’d gone to a. Sword fight because one. Of the Abraham Lincoln’s biography in the house. And they would not stop till they drew blood. I mean, he was just a hard core, antebellum family she was raised in, and yet she had his whole up in our heart since she was 12 and her mom, without warnings, too Mammy back because it was time to turn her into a young lady. And that was Mom’s job training to be a white lady. And she’d been looking for her Black family since she was 12. 

Maiysha Kai [00:31:50] And I mean, you know, the reason this story fascinated me so much was like, you know, well, I mean, several reasons, you know, coming from a light skinned family myself, that we are descendants of the transatlantic slave trade. I was born in Minnesota, so I was like, That sounds very nice, young man. That’s exactly how we are. But, you know, this idea that we all really are kind of like one, two steps away, you know, from from. An encounter just like this. 

Ben Jealous [00:32:21] Oh, I saw the same thing happened between Myrlie Evers and John McCain at the 2008 and NAACP convention. And, you know. I’ve run for office. I can’t imagine what it’s like to run for president. John showed. Up, you know, looking like a little bleary. Eyed, you know, like you’ve been doing this grind for over a year. And Myrlie Evers get to write up in his face. And she says, John. You know, my people are from Westport, too. We come off the old McCain plantation. That’s right. John, you and our family. And John McCain was just like. But, you know, it’s Myrlie Evers, so it’s like it’s what is as if Coretta. Scott King is like we’re family, when in fact, you just want to be like. Cool, great. That’s exciting. But you also, you know, it was. Definitely messing messing with his head a bit. And, you. Know. Understandably so. 

Maiysha Kai [00:33:12] Oh my gosh. Oh, my gosh. I can’t even imagine. Like, I’d be first of all, I’d be so starstruck. But he might not be. 

Ben Jealous [00:33:20]  I think he was. I mean, Myrlie Evers, you know. 

Maiysha Kai [00:33:23] That Story is like. 

Ben Jealous [00:33:23] She’s an American treasure that I think anybody, you know. 

Maiysha Kai [00:33:26] Yeah, I agree. Yes. Yes. All right. We’re going to talk more about that. And, you know, and this color conversation and the craft of writing, because, you know, I think people often forget for all your political leadership, your gubernatorial run in Maryland, like, I think people forget that you are an accomplished and acclaimed journalist. And I think, you know, we talk about writing a little bit with you. We come back more with more Writing Black and Ben Jealous. 

Maiysha Kai [00:33:57] All right. We are back with Ben Jealous and more Writing Black. We were just talking about the incredible Myrlie Evers. And, you know, she is one of several people who gets namechecked in this book. And you don’t listen when I say name checked. I think it’s really important to note like your name checking is so organic, I can’t even really call it that. I mean, [00:34:16]you are godmothers of Dave Chappelle, who also features really heavily in this book. You guys have several kind of pivotal experiences together. Which one would, when you’ve known each other your whole life. [10.7s]

Ben Jealous [00:34:27] [00:34:27]I’m still referred by some of the old Black comics who opened for him as his Puerto Rican bodyguard. Because when you lightskined in New York, you just Puerto Rican. And I was a college athlete. [9.9s]

Maiysha Kai [00:34:37] [00:34:37]That’s true. [0.3s]

Ben Jealous [00:34:38] [00:34:38]And they just assumed I was hanging out or reading books because I was the bodyguard. It’s like, you know,. [5.6s]

Excerpt from “Never Forget Our People Was Always Free” [00:34:44] Our fathers were best friends. His father was my godfather. We reconnected in New York City at the age of 18 and quickly developed a bond that has lasted our entire adult lives. We both found our calling when we were 14 years old. He in comedy clubs, me in the streets, organizing way in the back of our minds. Each of us knew that we were ultimately trying to live up to the example set by the men in our family who were the first generation to lead after slavery. 

Maiysha Kai [00:35:12] Listen, I’m a former New Yorker myself, and I also met this and I met Dave when I was around 20, about 1920. I remember clearly the era, as you were discussing in New York. I was a New York college student. 

Ben Jealous [00:35:26] We may have met. 

Maiysha Kai [00:35:28] We may have. We may have. 

Ben Jealous [00:35:30] You would’ve been at the Boston Comedy Club down by NYU. 

Maiysha Kai [00:35:36] Maybe, maybe, you know, I might have. Actually, I went to Sarah Lawrence. But, yeah. 

Ben Jealous [00:35:40] If you met Dave that’s where he was performing back then every kind of every night. It was like a sharecropper in that place for a few years. No real talk? No, we’re. We’re. We were 18 years old or six months apart. And in the Boston Comedy Club says to Dave, Who was that? You go into school performing arts and he graduated from your school a year after me. When you graduate, come up to New York and we’ll put you up in this beautiful house and you can perform. And then he gets. There and they’re like, And in the end of. Month week, we settle up and we say, How many hours and you perform and how much do we pay on the train? How much do we pay for food? And it was like the company store from. It was a great way to start, but it was a hard life to live. 

Maiysha Kai [00:36:25] Yeah. Yeah. I mean, you know, it’s so interesting because, like, you are, you know, so plugged in just organically. I mean, obviously, you have a tremendous career on your own. Had you never been related to any of these these people? And, you know, and I still think of you as a pretty young. 

Ben Jealous [00:36:41] Thank you. . 

Maiysha Kai [00:36:42] Always looking forward to what’s to come. But, you know, one of the striking things about this is that you’re hitting this note. You know, when we talk about the craft of writing, you know, and what resonates with people, you were hitting, I think, a really rare sweet spot with this book in which we are both hitting on some really relevant and relatable cultural touchstones, whether it be Dave or some of the other things that, you know, happened in the nineties in New York or Stacey Abrams is like heavily featured in this. But, you know, all these kind of people who, you know, this, it’s almost like this prescient view on what we now know they became right in addition to yourself and all of you kind of find your purpose really early in life, but also, you know. You as a writer? You know, I think it is very frequent that people, even with Barack Obama, that one’s political career eclipses this incredible writing talent, the incredible talent they have for communicating a moment or an idea or both or a philosophy. I would love to hear how you know writer. You know? 

Ben Jealous [00:37:57] No, I won’t. I mean, in the process. Wow. I really did. You know, my [00:38:01]my first lessons in being a writer came from my mom, but my first professional ones came from Charles Tisdale at the Jackson Advocate, whose newspaper was the most frequently firebombed newspaper in America in the eighties and nineties. We were firebombed. [16.2s]

Maiysha Kai [00:38:18] [00:38:18]Hmm. [0.0s]

Ben Jealous [00:38:19] [00:38:19]Yeah. [0.0s]

Maiysha Kai [00:38:19] [00:38:19]Jackson, Mississippi. [0.4s]

Maiysha Kai [00:38:20] [00:38:20]We were firebombed twice in the eighties, once in the early nineties and once in 98. And I showed up to be a reporter there because I was an organizer and the head of the Mississippi NAACP, who was an ally of the Republican governor at the time, was trying to run me out of the state. She had branded me a high-yellow communist from New York City. I said, “Lady, you are right on one account. I’ll let you figure out which one. [23.9s]

Maiysha Kai [00:38:47] [00:38:47]Right. The one I can’t help. Right? [0.8s]

Ben Jealous [00:38:50] [00:38:50]You know, you know, you just don’t go to go to the Ivy League to like, be a communist. Like it’s what, a bad investment. [6.9s] But, you know. But there she was trying to run me out of state, and Mr. Tisdle gave me a job so I could keep organized. And the most important lesson he taught me was this. No, There was my first day. I had to turn in three stories by Tuesday afternoon to be editor Wednesday. And I was on Thursday. And it was Monday morning. And I was just like, Where do I find these. Stories? 

Maiysha Kai [00:39:21] I’m like, Welcome to my world. 

Ben Jealous [00:39:23] And he’s like, He’s a brother just walk outside and start talking to people. They will tell you what’s going on. And so, you know, that was actually my favorite job in my life. Me and my Jeep and Mississippi. Two years is driving around, listening to people’s stories more and a lot about the human condition when a lot of wisdom, you know, the thing that sticks with me kind of triumphant leaves you like my trophy of, like wisdom. From that time I asked the guy to a bluesman explain the difference between blues and gospel because I was covering both and at the edges that genres were blending together and this and this at this event. And he said, Oh, brother, it’s simple. It’s just a matter of tense. Gospel is about the troubled blues is about the troubled already done. Robert Yeah, I want stumped Henry Lennox, the actor who spent 12 years teaching music before he, you know, did like The Five Heartbeats. I said, Brother, explain to me the difference in blues and gospel. 20 minutes later, all his conversation about syncopation. I just hit him, what with what Cadillac Sims said to me. And he was like, Yeah, or you could say that. I mean, you know, but, you know, in this book write this book, I had described this this was a project. For four years. I took it on in the Depression of having lost a race for governor and kind of not really knowing, you know, I. 

Maiysha Kai [00:40:47] I love that you admit that, by the way. I don’t think people are very transparent about how painful this was. 

Ben Jealous [00:40:52] Oh my gosh. 

Maiysha Kai [00:40:53] When you go for something that. Anything that means something to you. 

Ben Jealous [00:40:54] You know, when you’re people start from the bottom, the way that you know how to win is to put it to give it everything right, to give it everything. 

Maiysha Kai [00:41:05] Throw everything at it. 

Ben Jealous [00:41:05] And I did that and I lost. And I mean, we we won in a lot of ways. Stacey was very gracious. You know, here we were. Two people have been very close friends who were 19 years old. She always knew she was going to run for governor. I never did like I’m kind of like the Forrest Gump of the group and here I was running for governor and she was so poised in her speech and I was just pissed. 

Excerpt from “Never Forget Our People Was Always Free” [00:41:30] She was known throughout the state as a rising star in Georgia politics. To my daughter. She was simply on Stacey. And to me she was a friend who always had a little bit more common sense than I had. I’m a fifth generation member of the NAACP. Children in my family have always been raised with the hard truths about our national sickness of racism. Still, Stacey understood. Well before I did that, the hard truths to be aired in the church that day would be too much for any seven year old child to bear. 

Ben Jealous [00:42:07] So I. I ended up with a ghost writer who really didn’t get me and didn’t get the complexity of the stories I was telling and just kept trying to simplify it so you could tell the story and he could understand it and I had to fire him. And that was hard because I like the guy, but it just wasn’t working. 

Maiysha Kai [00:42:24] Mm hmm. 

Ben Jealous [00:42:25] And then I you know, I go back to the publisher and the publishers, like. Cool. Sorry, that didn’t work out. Go ahead. The book tour is in two months. And I was. Like, Like you guys hooked me up with this guy. I blew all the money on him. Like, no idea. Sucks, man. But two months and just give us the money back. And I’m like, But I spent it all on your. Alright, c’mon. So then. I was really, really stuck. And I was like, “Wait a sec. I’m a very good extemporaneous speaker. Why am I sitting here trying to compose stuff at a computer?” And I just sat back and I turned on my voice recorder. I’m going to turn it off. And I actually would write an outline like it would first be 28 notes in the back of a three by five card. And I put that on my computer screen and I would just talk. And I cranked out 90% of this book in two weeks. 

Maiysha Kai [00:43:20] I love this story so much. I love it because I think, you know, again, this is a podcast not just about the books are written, but how they got there. And I think this is a story we have not heard before, but it’s just as viable as any other writing story we’ve heard. And I love, love, love that you reveal that because I think that is something that everybody can relate to. 

Ben Jealous [00:43:40] You got to find a way, though. You know that that you get the words out. And I’m. Somebody who had a crippling stutter as a kid. And the first lesson was I could not read speeches. I can do that now, but I couldn’t do that then. And but, you know, honestly, at 15, like. My vanity, I was just like even though I lost that debate because I was incomprehensible but could read my speech. I look pretty good in the photograph. So I was like, I. Better figure this out. And so I sat there. I had no I had no resources for speech. You know, like anything I would give my kids. Now, I didn’t have any of that. And so I was just like, well, I don’t stutter when I sing, so I’ll try speaking with a rhythm. And I was like, Well, Martin Luther King says that his guy was just reading things about speech, you know, trying to educate myself. Martin Luther King says that his best speeches were written as notes in the back of an envelope. So I’ll give myself basically two, three by five cards. And let me see what I can do. And it worked out really well. All of my speeches I’ve ever given have been extemporaneous, and it works out to. 

Maiysha Kai [00:44:49] You were just a font of of of not just information, but inspiration. I think like there are a ton of kids who stuttered and who are grappling with that, who are going to find so much for you sharing that. We’re going to be right back in one second. With the last end of Writing Black with Ben Jealous. 

[00:45:08] TheGrio, Black Podcast Network is here, and it’s everything you’ve been waiting for news, talk, entertainment, sports and today’s issues, all from the Black perspective. Ready for real talk and Black culture amplified, Be inspired, Listen to new and established voices now on theGrio Black Podcast Network. Listen today on theGrio mobile app and tune in everywhere Great podcast are heard. 

Maiysha Kai [00:45:39] All right. We are back. Ben Jealous. You are just first of all. Thank you. You’re a delightful guest. I’m just enjoying you so much. But also, I think you’re so inspiring. I think your story, and listen, as a as a light skinned woman growing up in America and all the unsaid, unspoken, but knowing stuff that comes with. 

Ben Jealous [00:46:02] Medium brown. Dave and I talk about this all the time. When you’re at either end of the spectrum, so much silly trips get thrown on you. I just want to know what it’s like to be just middley Black. Just like. Just like, you know, like. 

Maiysha Kai [00:46:15] That’s right. Right. Just middle of the road. Right. Exactly that, you know? And listen, I’m not going say. There’s nobody in America like anti-Blackness or in the world. Anti-Blackness persists everywhere. And as we know, you know, one drop rules str one drop rules. But, you know, it’s so interesting. I’ve never wanted to be anything but Black. It’s my favorite things to be both biologically and socially. But. 

Ben Jealous [00:46:38] Let me tell you somthing about that. So I was featured in a book called Facing Forward when I was like 20. It was Portrait. This was like. 

Maiysha Kai [00:46:44] Okay. 

Ben Jealous [00:46:44] Era of like Black coffee table books. 

Maiysha Kai [00:46:47] Yes, yes, I have several. 

Ben Jealous [00:46:49] And I was the first interview in the book. And so, like, I would get kind of the lion’s share of the media calls. So one day ABC News calls and they say, We’re going to interview four men from the book and put you on the nightly news. We’re sending the producer out. I’ll meet you at the church in Harlem where I was working. And it was a great. And the producer comes. And she says, Why is it the hardest thing in America to be a young Black man? And I said. And now bitterly, I’ve been hanging out at Columbia with Kimberlé Crenshaw. This is early nineties, so she didn’t know what she was walking into. I was. Like, well, looking at the lives of my mother and my sister. I’m not sure that’s the case as far as I can tell. Racism and sexism compound each other and I certainly had some privilege for being a young man. She was like. And then. 

Maiysha Kai [00:47:34] Thank you for that. 

Ben Jealous [00:47:34] I said, We’re just starting with the first session. I said, You know, I think about it. I know a lot of white kids on campus who want to be Black, but I haven’t actually got a Black person. Who truly wants to be white have you interrogated whiteness? Well, yeah. They put the three brothers on the air. They were just fun to do. 

Maiysha Kai [00:47:56] I love it, I love it, I love it. I love it now. I love that so much because I think like, you know, we do go through this thing. Those of us who I mean, listen, you know, you speak very calmly in this book about your own heritage. You know, you just talked about, you know, you being darker than your grandparents. You’re you’re the product of an interracial union, you know, And I do think that the colorism aspect, you know, that we can never escape in America, this like simultaneous anti-Blackness that is pervasive in every aspect of our life, but also this idea of this proximity to whiteness being something that’s desirable and, you know. Oh it’s such a it’s loaded. It’s, there’s I don’t I’ve yet to find a very artful way to speak about what is my very human experience, what is the human experience of so many people that I know and and how we continue to navigate race and and hope I think in those terms, you know, especially because, you know, as Isabel Wilkerson pointed out, we have our own caste system here in America. That’s very weird and gross. 

Ben Jealous [00:49:05] But let me just dive into something here. 

Maiysha Kai [00:49:07] And shameful. 

Ben Jealous [00:49:09] Which is you know, as we get older, it’s less interesting to to perform. It’s you know, it’s more urgent. 

Maiysha Kai [00:49:17] I agree. 

Ben Jealous [00:49:17] Yourself, like God made you all the ways that God made you. And God forbid you spend your whole life performing as if you’re just 10%. Or 20% or one set of factors of who you are. And so. 

Maiysha Kai [00:49:36] Right. 

Ben Jealous [00:49:37] You know, [00:49:37]when I was young, so much of being a Gen X Black male was like fitting into a certain narrative. And I knew I didn’t fit into that narrative. You know, the narrative. You know, I didn’t have a dad. I had a dad. He was white. He was a great dad, you know, And my Black grandfather was my other dad, and he was a great dad. So so I, I just wasn’t. I had invitations to write kind of memoir type books in my twenties, my thirties. I would never write them. Because I wasn’t ready to just be public about my commitment to just being myself. [37.8s] And that was the fun part of this book, was to say. What if we just except that we’re connected to all the people that we’re actually connected to like that I share blood with Robert E. Lee and with Thomas Jefferson. Like I. Yeah. 

Maiysha Kai [00:50:41] And with Dick Cheney, apparently. 

Ben Jealous [00:50:42] Obama already claimed that one. So, you know, I’m going to let him have that you. 

Maiysha Kai [00:50:46] That’s true. 

Ben Jealous [00:50:46] The family swap. 

Maiysha Kai [00:50:49] Let him have Dick Cheney. Okay. 

Ben Jealous [00:50:52] Well, you know. Oh, God. But it’s like, oh, oh. And it was actually very, very healing. For me because part of it was understanding what allowed me to do. That was that the last People to be enslaved in the family understood that too. And it wasn’t all negative. It’s not to say it was positive. It was not to say that slavery wasn’t a horrible. But it is to say that I found an artifact. Of my grandmother’s great grandfather’s brother, who was a slave owner trying to protect him and allowed to live the rest of his life with some dignity. And I can’t completely ignore that. You know what I’m saying? Like, I have to recognize that. That that happened and that. His son would have known that he was related to Robert E. Lee and his sons own estimation of his own political possibilities. That may have weighed in a positive way just to say, you know what, other people who share my blood have run this state. Why can’t I? 

Maiysha Kai [00:52:01] Mm hmm. 

Ben Jealous [00:52:02] [00:52:02]And that’s again, segregation was so artificial. You know, even as compared to the the scandalous, troubling intimacies of slavery, that absolute separation was that we emerged from was completely artificial. [22.0s]

Maiysha Kai [00:52:27] Do you believe that, as we often hear, race is a social construct? 

Ben Jealous [00:52:30] 1,000%. I mean, what what’s the alternative, That there are multiple human races by that, you know, by that theory ride the old Peterson. 

Maiysha Kai [00:52:39] I mean, I love the biological things that make me Black. I’m not going front. 

Ben Jealous [00:52:42] Those biological things make you a part of the African diaspora. Right. 

Maiysha Kai [00:52:48] Right. Yes. 

Ben Jealous [00:52:50] But so, like, Africa isn’t a social construct. Europe isn’t a social construct. But the trip that we lay on, you know, where your ancestors came from. That’s absolutely. It’s worse than a social construct. It’s like a failed science fiction, you know, experiment. Like they said. Oh, you know, they wake up them like they’re mid-1700s. These people who are falling in love with Europeans and their science revolution. No, no. Like a thousand years after, after Egypt’s are 1500 or 2000 years, you know, Egypt is doing like brain surgery before Jesus was born. Right. So. So. 

Maiysha Kai [00:53:25] Yeah. 

Ben Jealous [00:53:26] There’s all of that. And they’re like yeah, there’s like multiple human races. And these Black people there are subhuman. And then they call people like me, Mullatos, because we’re supposed to descend from like two different species and it’s like, well mules don’t have kids, but I got two. So what else you guys got as a theory? 

Maiysha Kai [00:53:46] That part. Right, Right. Exactly that part. By the way, I wasn’t disagreeing with you. It’s my job to ask those hard questions. So let me ask you this. I don’t know if that was a hard. 

Ben Jealous [00:53:56] I’m just having fun. Sorry. 

Maiysha Kai [00:53:57] Let me ask you this question. I’m so glad you’re having fun. No, it makes me have fun that you’re having fun. And on that note, because we are a podcast about reading and Writing Black, what do you read? What inspires you? Who inspires you? And it doesn’t have to be books. It could be, you know, thinkers and writers like who who inspires you in that realm? Knowing words are so important. 

Ben Jealous [00:54:24] I read short things. Because I’m a single dad, so the amount of time I have to read for myself. 

Maiysha Kai [00:54:29] Yeah. 

Ben Jealous [00:54:29] I want to get to them from the beginning to the end in the time that I have. So I really, you know, I revisit Rumi all the time. My dad developed as a sort of a Sufi meditation practice when he was teaching in eastern Turkey. And that was part of my upbringing. Your dad was a Unitarian and Sufi, mom was an Episcopalian and a Buddhist. You know, the other thing that I go back to a lot is the Christian mystic Kahlil Gibran. Reading Beyond the Prophet and to his other works is one that I referred to all of my students, frankly, especially the young women who who struggle with ambition and just being out there with their ambition, which they never struggled with since I’ve known her 19 are home. There’s the one called the Ambitious Violet. I read a lot of Frederick Douglass. There was a point in my life when I realized I’d read a kind of every darker find by King, and I asked myself. Who was king for king? Who was that person from the previous century who captivated everybody’s imagination about the possibilities of America and of our people with their oratory. Well, that’s that’s Frederick Douglass. And Douglass blows my mind. When I was doing all the work on marriage equality at the NAACP and trying to keep the NAACP together while you recognized that, like you can’t separate the gay community in the Black community because, you know, you’ve been just waiting for that. Like every church choir, you know, director barely scratched. 

Maiysha Kai [00:56:05] Right? You know, that part. Right. 

Ben Jealous [00:56:08] Church without gay people would just sound a lot worse. But they all you know, as we were we were going through that. I realize that. Frederick Douglass, all the things that we, you know, remember him as civil rights leader, father of Black Republicans, you know, businessman, statesman, diplomat, was also the consummate ally of the 19th century. His greatest speech after the Civil War is called. Our Composite Nation. It is his tirade against the. Chinese Exclusion Act. His greatest. Feat. In many ways, that was the 14th Amendment was the 15th Amendment, because in response to the 14th Amendment, they introduced the Chinese Exclusion Act because of the date of birth prohibition. And he gives a beautiful speech. But when the 15th Amendment was passed. Which probably was his greatest accomplishment, certainly was that the apex abolishing slavery, equal protection, right to vote. That was like the crescendo. You know what he says he sounds like this is wonderful. I’m not going to cast a ballot until women have the right to vote to. Drop the money. Walk away. But, you know, I think it’s incredible. And so. Yeah. 

Maiysha Kai [00:57:29] But that’s the prototype. I mean, that’s the necessity. We need everybody to do that to, like, reach the hand back to the group that’s more marginalized than you. 

Ben Jealous [00:57:36] So as the leader I say the most important things to read are the things that shape your mindset. And spiritual mysticism, both Islamic and Christian, that a huge influence on me and the words of King, but really his king, Frederick Douglas, are what continue to inspire me. 

Maiysha Kai [00:57:57] I love that. And what’s next for you? I know you just put out this book, and I know that you have a new role. 

Ben Jealous [00:58:03] Yeah. 

Maiysha Kai [00:58:03] The Sierra Club as its executive director. What’s next? 

Ben Jealous [00:58:08] It’s like the second half of my life is next. I, for biological reasons and the way that my paternal grandfather died, I was pretty sure I would be dead by 50. And then I figured out what it killed him and that it was killing me. And I dealt with it and my blood pressure without any medication, just with an intervention dropped from 186 to 127. 

Maiysha Kai [00:58:30] Oh. 

Ben Jealous [00:58:30] Yeah. Well, I figured out that my grandfather died from undiagnosed sleep apnea by going by getting all of his symptoms. And then I realized I had the same. And when I was present sleep, my blood pressure went up ten points a year, starting a 127 and five and a half years later was 186 and it showed no sign of abating. And and so I dealt with it with blood pressures down. My Black grandfather lived to 92, my Black grandmother lived to 105. So I feel like I started kind of all over. And I’m raising kids and there’s nothing more urgent to me than figuring out how we save this planet. So that’s what, you know, this next need your life really is about is really applying the lessons that I learned from King’s proteges. And I studied under several of them as the organizer, Reverend Orange. Dr. Lowery. Andrew Young. Yeah. And at least two of them said this to me. They said King would always say to them two things. One can’t say it in 25 words, come back when you can because no one’s going to remember what you had to say. And two, if you’re comfortable in your coalition, if you are comfortable in your coalition, your coalition is too small. And so what I’m focused on, the Sierra Club is building the coalition big enough to lead this country to do its part in saving this planet. 

Maiysha Kai [00:59:52] I love that. I love that. And it sounds like, you know, we’ll want to chat further with you about conservation. But in the meantime, I want to thank you so much for appearing on Writing Black and talking about your latest book. Never Forget Our People Were Always Free: A Parable of American Healing. You guys should pick this up, saying that to all of our listeners and viewers and. 

Ben Jealous [01:00:15] Both one for your momma. 

Maiysha Kai [01:00:16] With this conversation. Buy one for your momma, too, because it is Black History Month. And never forget, our people were always free. Okay. All right. Thank you so much, Ben Jealous. Thank you. God bless your life. We really appreciate your time. God bless you, too. 

Maiysha Kai [01:00:31] Hey, it’s about that time again for me to talk about my favorites. That is my favorite books that are related to this week’s podcast. And this week, talking to Ben Jealous, you know, brought up so much stuff for me. It actually bought one of our recent guest, Charlayne Hunter-Gault. And my people, five decades of writing about Black lives. You know, like one of the things I loved about Ben’s book is, you know, you’re drawing in these other pop cultural figures and very well-known moments and really giving them like a really intimate lens. And you’re also really giving an intimate lens into the everyday lives of Black people, whether it be on Speakers Corner in Harlem or, you know, the communities that we built in, you know, the summer communities we build or the vacation resorts that were built by many of our elders during segregation. And I just think that, like both Ben and Charlayne do an incredible job of really taking us there and giving us a real, real time glimpse at, like, what that culture was like and what what that striving was really like. 

Maiysha Kai [01:01:38] Similarly. Listen. It’s on Hulu. We can’t promote it enough. It is a Pulitzer Prize winning, you know, article series for a reason. But the 1619 Project. Like, if you really want to understand, you know, the impact and import of Black people, Black lives, Black influence, Black ingenuity, Black artistry, engineering, etc. in America, and why we deserve all the things. This is an incredible book to engage with. And I highly recommend the series as well, because it’s undeniable. And as they try to strip more and more of our history from actual education in America, as if our history is not part of American history, which spoiler alert it is. We have to do our part to make sure that it stays alive in our minds, in the minds of those who need to hear it, whether that be our children or other people’s children. So those are my favorites for this week. I hope you will join us next week for another episode of Writing Black. Thanks so much for joining us for this week’s episode of Writing Black. As always, you can find us on theGrio app or wherever you find your podcasts. 

Dr. Christina Greer [01:03:03] I’m political scientist, author and professor Dr. Christina Greer, and I’m host of The Blackest Questions on theGrio’s Black Podcast Network. This person invented ranch dressing around 1950. Who are they? 

Marc Lamont Hill [01:03:16] I have no idea. 

Dr. Christina Greer [01:03:17] This all began as an exclusive Black history trivia party at my home in Harlem with family and friends. And they got so popular it seemed only right to share the fun with our Grio listeners. Each week we invite a familiar face on the podcast to play. What was the name of the person who was an enslaved chief cook for George Washington and later ran away to freedom? In 1868, this university was the first in the country to open a medical school that welcomed medical students of all races, genders and social classes. What university was it not? 

Roy Wood, Jr [01:03:51] This is why I like doing stuff with you, because I leave educated. I was not taught this in Alabama Public Schools. 

Dr. Christina Greer [01:03:57] Question number three. You ready? 

Eboni K. Williams [01:03:59] Yes. I want to redeem myself. 

Amanda Seales [01:04:00] How do we go from Kwanzaa to like these obscure? 

Dr. Christina Greer [01:04:05] Diaspora, darling. Diaspora. 

Amanda Seales [01:04:07] This is like the New York Times crossword from Monday to Saturday. 

Dr. Christina Greer [01:04:11] Right or wrong. All we care about is the journey and having some fun while we do it. 

Kalen Allen [01:04:15] I’m excited and also a little nervous. 

Dr. Christina Greer [01:04:19] No need to be nervous. And as I tell all of my guests, this is an opportunity for us to educate ourselves because Black history is American history. So we’re going to have some fun. Listen, some people get zero out of five, something to get five out of five, it doesn’t matter. We’re just going be on a little intellectual journey together. 

Eboni K. Williams [01:04:34] Latoya Cantrell? 

Dr. Christina Greer [01:04:36] That’s right. Mayor Latoya Cantrell. 

Michael Twitty [01:04:38] Hercules Posey. 

Dr. Christina Greer [01:04:40] Hmm. Born in 1754 and he was a member of the Mount Vernon slave community, widely admired for his culinary skills. 

Kalen Allen [01:04:47] I’m going to guess AfroPunk. 

Dr. Christina Greer [01:04:50] Close. It’s AfroNation. So last year, according to my research, and Samuel Wilson, a.k.a. Falcon. 

Jason Johnson [01:04:59] Wrong. Wrong. I am disputing this. 

Latosha Brown [01:05:03] Very, very, very rare 99.9999 sure that it is Representative John Lewis, who is also from the state of Alabama. That let you know, Christina, we got some goodness come out of Alabama. 

Dr. Christina Greer [01:05:15] There is something in the water in Alabama. And you are absolutely correct. 

Diallo Riddle [01:05:18] The Harder They Come. 

Dr. Christina Greer [01:05:20] Close. 

Diallo Riddle [01:05:21] Oh, wait, The Harder They Fall? 

Dr. Christina Greer [01:05:23] That’s right. I’m one of those people that just changes one word. 

Diallo Riddle [01:05:26] I mean, I know the poem too well. 

Roy Wood, Jr [01:05:27] I just don’t know nothing today. I’m going to pour myself a little water while you tell me the answer. 

Dr. Christina Greer [01:05:32] The answer is Seneca Village, which began in 1825 with the purchase of land by a trustee, the A.M.E. Zion Church. 

Roy Wood, Jr [01:05:39] You know why games like this make me nervous? I don’t know if I know enough Black. Do I know? And, um, how Black am I? Oh, my Lord. They. They going to. We going to find out in public. 

Dr. Christina Greer [01:05:47] So give us a follow. Subscribe and join us on the Blackest Questions.